Friday, February 16, 2007 10comments No tags Permalink 0

Growing up, I ate a lot of Chinese vegetarian foods and mock meat. My grandma is Buddhist, which meant that on certain times of the month she’d have to go vegetarian for a week. Those were my favorite weeks. Grandma would prepare numerous dishes of faux ham and chicken, working wonders with wheat gluten, tofu and mushrooms. I grew to like mock meat even more than real meats (save for sweetbread, foie gras, and braised shortribs, hehe). A lot of it had to do with the texture, “meat” made from veggies, especially tofu always seemed to carry a lighter chewy with a bit of bounce. I like soft foods and the rhyme and blend of various forms of bean curd and mushrooms were very appealing.

Which explains my excitement to visit to Happy Family Vegetarian in Rowland Heights, a restaurant specializing in mock meats. I went with Trisha, a close friend from high school. While she may not be the most adventurous eater, Trisha was nonetheless kind enough to stand my excessive enthusiasm and quite willing to indulge in my delight for mock meats. That’s what high school friends are for.

We arrived around 5:30pm, soon after the restaurant opened for dinner. A few tables were filled, mostly older couples and small families. We were welcomed into the restaurant with cheerful, “hellos, welcome, welcome,” all around and given a small complimentary salad to begin. A basic mix of chopped lettuce, carrots and cucumbers was tossed in a light miso based dressing, very simple, yet clean and fresh.

Our Vege House Chicken with Sesame ($8.50) reminded me a lot of kung pao chicken, only without the spice and without the chicken. Little rounds made of chopped button mushrooms, eggplant and tofu were battered, fried, then finished in a tangy sweet-sour glaze. Texturewise, I could barely differentiate it from actual chicken, but in terms of flavor, I enjoyed this a great deal more. The batter was crisp and sharp, served at a sizzling hot temperature that contrasted with the soft, sweet blend of vegetables. You could even claim that it was “juicy.” Cause it was.

We also shared a dish of “real” vegetables, Eggplant with Basil ($7.25). This was noted as ‘spicy’ on the menu, but as Trisha can’t eat spicy foods, we asked for it to be made mild. The dish consisted of a rather generous portion of eggplant stir-fried with fresh basil leaves in a garlicky sauce. The eggplant melted right onto my bowl of hot rice, while the sauce did its duty, lovingly soaking through every grain. Enjoyable, if not a pedestrian item, but I can’t help but imagine how much the dish would benefit from with a touch of fiery peppers!

It was just going to be these two dishes for our “light” dinner…that is, until I saw Fried Bread ($2.00) listed on the menu. I loooove bread, and whenever there’s any time of bread, be it sweet or savory, listed on a restaurant menu, count me for an order. Even better if it’s fried. The duo of mini loves were crispy, crunchy and just oh-so-fried to that deep golden brown shade. The crust functioned as decadently delicious armor, holding safe to the soft, white layers of nothing but pure plush dough. The only thing more I could have asked for was a bowl of condensed milk. Just for dipping, you know? Fried. Bread. Sweet Milk. It’s a god blessed combo made in heaven.

Our meal closed with complimentary bowls of tapioca in a sweetened evaporated milk base. This was a particularly refreshing end, given the greasy nature of our dish. There were so many more interesting dishes I’m interested to try – Fried Taro with Lychees, Vege Shark’s Fin with Mustard Greens and something called “O Oh Gen” (anyone had this before?) Well, we will be back, and I’ll let you know!

It’s midnight now, and I could really go for a mock ham sandwich. Like the kind my grandma makes. Such are my childhood memories.

Happy Family Vegetarian Restaurant

18425 E. Colima Rd., 2nd Floor
Rowland Heights, CA 91748
(626) 965-9923

  • anonymous
    February 16, 2007

    I love that place. You should go there during lunch time. Lunch is cheaper, also you get rice & soup or porridge & bread (the same bread that you bought on dinner for $2)for FREE on each of lunch menu ^^

  • anonymous
    February 16, 2007

    continue from above, here are some of my fav from lunch menu: vege shredded pork with shredded bean curd,vege fish with hot bean sauce, chop mustard green with bean curd sheet, vermicelli with brown sauce, vege kungpao shrimp, vege sweet & sour chicken.ahahaa.. you can tell from the comment.. yeah I’m a cheapskate, I go there most of the time during lunch.. cheaper prices!O Oh Gen, haven’t try it, my guess.. it’s an “taiwanese oyster pancake”

  • Messimoo
    February 16, 2007

    Wow! I found your blog off of a friends. I am so impressed with your choice of words to describe the food you eat. Reading what you wrote made me want to eat what you wrote about even though I’ve never tried half of it. I tend to be a fast, easy, inexpensive meal person. I have a hard time spending lots of money on food but man, you make me want to!

  • Chubbypanda
    February 16, 2007

    I love veggie Chinese food too. There’s something to be said for 3,000 years of culinary tradition. No Western veggie/vegan food can beat it.

  • Kathy YL Chan
    February 16, 2007

    Hey Anonymous!Oh man, you really like this place! If I lived within walking distance, I’d be there for lunch everyday – the menu is so extensive! No sense in paying dinner prices if you can be more of the same food for cheaper during lunch. I’m a cheapskate at heart too, hehe :) Gah. Aw man, if I knew the O Oh Gen was an oyster pancake, I should have tried it! Next time! ;) Hey Messimoo!Thanks! I’m glad you like my blog :) I often feel pretty guilty about spending so much on food, but I justify it with the fact that while I’m eating, I’m also learning about different cultures (foodwise that is ;)). And plus, we gotta eat, so may as well make it good? I don’t drink though, so that helps save a lot! :)Hey Chubbypanda!Very true indeed! Someone needs to go out an introduce Chinese vegetarian to all those western cuisines out there – they don’t know what they’re missing!

  • anonymous
    February 17, 2007

    I like fried bread with condensed milk too. I have these wierd friends and one of them makes us play games to compete for the last piece on the table.

  • hellokitty893112
    February 17, 2007

    Even though I’m not into vegetarian food, the food looks delicious! The most appealing thing was the fried bread…haha. I love all types of bread and fried food just taste good.Happy Chinese New Year! :)

  • Khemany
    February 22, 2007

    yeah i had no idea that Buddhist had to be vegetarian on certain days of the month I only found out recently…i love vegetarian restauarants they are so creative with their food creations

  • anonymous
    February 28, 2007

    I’ve had the fish dish here. Its amazing because they also reproduce the flaky texture of cooked fish as well as imparting the delicate flavor of fish. I couldn’t believe it when my aunt brought me to this restaurant that I would actually like it.

  • Sophie
    August 20, 2009

    the eggplant dish looks so delish!this is really one of the simplest dishes to make anywhere in the world so long as you can get hold of eggplant and sauce package.Here I bought a sauce pack so as to skip all the seasonings! and i will try this friday after work.

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